Beginning on 17 January 2012, a new rebellion was ignited in North Africa. Northern Mali was overcome by the Tuareg people under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (M.N.L.A.). M.N.L.A. is an Azawadan nationalist group formed in October 2011 and is accused by the Malian government of having ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. M.N.L.A. is engaged in combat with the Malian government in order to liberate the northern part of Mali and proclaim an independent Azawad. Many of its fighters have served in the Libyan Civil War on both sides of the conflict, and the group still finds Libya as its ally.

Two more groups are also combating the Malian government in the North: Ansar Din (sometimes spelled “Dine,” Arabic for “Defenders of Faith”) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. Both groups are Islamist groups and are confirmed to have ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, with M.O.J.W.A. being a direct offshoot of A.Q.I.M. Both groups are allied to the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, which is responsible for an ever increasing amount of terrorism in northern Nigeria.

All three groups are combating the Malian government. Until 21 March 2012, the government was headed by President Amadou Touré. On that day, however, a military coup led by Malian Army Captain Amadou Sanogo overthrew Touré. Sanogo established the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (C.N.R.D.R.) and declared himself president. He claimed the coup was necessary in order to save Mali, as Touré was inept at stopping the M.N.L.A. and its allies.

However, the C.N.R.D.R. proved just as incapable in ending the insurgency. As of late, M.N.L.A. has declared a cease-fire, as they have taken all of the territory they claim for the state of Azawad, and proclaimed the independence of Azawad on 6 April 2012.

The world condemned the coup almost immediately. The United States, which has a contingent of Special Forces in Mali as part of Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans-Sahara, suspended aid to the new government. Most countries bordering Mali have also closed their borders and proposed sanctions against the new government in order to pressure them to step down. Yet the C.N.R.D.R. has weathered the pressure thus far.

Both the coup and the rebellion pose a conundrum for the U.S. with the possibility of dire consequences. For one, the coup is contrary to the U.S.’s stated objective of spreading democracy. Because the coup occurred one month prior to the presidential elections, the democratic process in Africa has suffered a grievous setback.

In addition, the M.N.L.A. have allied themselves with those who seek to inflict harm to the U.S. and its allies in the region and around the world. When M.N.L.A. declared independence, Ansar Din rejected this and vowed to fight on until all of Mali was under Islamic sharia. Both Ansar Din and M.O.J.W.A. are allied to A.Q.I.M. as well as Boko Haram, and will necessitate U.S. action eventually.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has only one option at this point, and it is not a savory option either – play the waiting game in order to assess the future course of the conflict and the actors involved, both state and non-state actors.

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